Dead Space 3 Review
Cart: Dead Space 3
Cab: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC
Coin: Visceral Games
Dead Space 3 is a profoundly ugly game.
Aesthetically stunning, the game’s failings ooze from flaws buried much deeper than skin. Much like the Markers that the game’s narrative revolves around, its core draws energy from those around it and produces merely monsters in return.
2008’s Dead Space was a welcome new IP to the world of games at a time when fresh ideas seemed to be few and far between. Exciting and flawed in equal measure, it borrowed mercilessly from iconic works of horror in a variety of mediums but held it together by virtue of being a bold effort and an uncharacteristic play for EA. Back-tracking and fetch-quests aside, it was a well-balanced affair even if the second-half felt rather like it was treading water, unsure as to what to do next.
Its 2011 sequel took everything that was great about its predecessor and turned it all up to eleven. A tighter script; a surprisingly deep and gripping character study; an evolved and alluring mythology; more fluid and varied combat mechanics; vastly superior visuals and greater in scope and vision: DS2 had it all and was a terrifying thrill-ride from start to finish. It still ranks as one of my all-time favourite games; but where to go from there?
Bear in mind that by this point, Visceral had made (including spin-offs), seven Dead Space games in just four years and I’ll tell you where DS3 should have gone: for a holiday until the next generation. There’s simply nothing new to see here that builds in any meaningful way upon the core franchise.
If anything, it’s a massive retrograde step.
Every bit as irritating as they look…
We begin with a playable prologue that doesn’t even feature Isaac (or anything remotely scary) before we’re thrust abruptly into his shoes in a completely bizarre scenario that’s as badly scripted as it is terribly realised. The nut-job Unitologists have somehow managed to stage a coup on the Moon and blow-up and terrorise most of the city. The prophetic Isaac apparently didn’t even see coming as he was too busy being pissy and broody about the fact that his new girlfriend (damsel-in-distress and wannabe Marker expert from DS2) recently buggered off, leaving him with nothing but an arsey-pants answer-machine message. Enter two equally pissy and vacuous military-macho-space-marine-dudes (one of whom is your new playable co-op character) and Isaac’s suddenly off on yet another fetch-quest under the auspicious guidance of yet another person he doesn’t trust all in the name of rescuing yet another gal that’s left him in the lurch.
It was a tense and compelling narrative framework the first time around; now it’s just plain dull.
After some pretty dire combat, shooting (wait for it) real-live humans (an experience that exposes true weaknesses in the game’s AI and movement mechanics – even with the new half-baked cover system), you’re set upon by the same-old necromorphs. Only this time they’re (wait for it) a bit faster than usual. And that’s all that’s different about them. No new character classes, no big surprises, only a tick-list of space-zombie-cannon-fodder that you’ve all seen before.
Were that not enough to deflate you, when you eventually do meet up with said gal (after an on-rails flying section?!), she snogs one macho-space-marine-dude’s face off (not the one you get to play; for shame) and barks at you to go and do another (wait for it) fetch-quest.
At this point, I completely stopped caring about anyone in the game, including Isaac, but particularly the new playable co-op character who’s even more pissy than every other pissy character in the game combined. He’s even more pissy than Isaac’s ex’s new bit of marine-dude-buff who’s a completely paranoid arsehole obsessed about the two of you getting back together. Or something.
Dude; I know
I mean seriously: if I wanted this much pissyness to fill my evenings, I’d watch Eastenders thank-you very much.
Notice that I’ve managed to make it this far without going anywhere near the IAPs, questionable inclusion of co-operative play and the franchise shifting from all-out survival-horror to more Uncharted-wannabe action nonsense (without gameplay mechanics that were really ever designed for such a shift)?
Well, to be honest, none of those headline criticisms bothered me a great deal.
The IAPs are unobtrusive, to be fair – especially to someone who’s already condition themselves to completely blank-out (take note, EA) any form of IAP or DLC. I made it through the entire game without spending a single penny (if you really want to, there’s at least as much as you paid for the game again to be spent) and if anything this left me with a much greater sense of achievement and self-worth. The much-touted new weapon-crafting system is rather dull to be honest with the wide variety of weapon and ammo types from previous games being boiled down to one type of ammo and you crafting probably only one bad-ass gun that you stick with for the entire game.
So that’s all that collecting and resource management goodness gone in one fell swoop. Bravo.
Co-op is equally background and inoffensive being something that you only rarely notice breadcrumbs of in single-player (cut-scenes adjusted to suit depending on how many of you are playing) and yet is a robust and engaging affair with a friend, should you want it. Even if it makes an already not-scary horror game even less scary.
And on the subject of this ever greater shift to action from horror: well, we were almost there anyway with DS2, which was a stunning game, so that’s hardly a deal-breaker in itself either. It’s impossible to escape the fact, though, that this isn’t really a Dead Space game anymore. The biggest issue here is not the inclusion of more action, it’s the completely incoherent shift in styles as the game unfolds. It feels as though it was made by several different studios and bolted together as an afterthought. That might well be your cup-of-tea but after the refined and cohesive bliss of DS2, it left me feeling robbed.
I’ve done a lot of moaning about this, haven’t I? Which is odd, really, as there’s actually a lot of good gaming here, much as there was in Resident Evil 6. I think that the difference here though is that Dead Space has just changed too much too fast with DS2 being the only truly standout title in the series.
With Visceral being made to pump out additions and spin-offs like a battery-hen on-heat, DS3 feels like a dog chasing its own tail and a publisher chasing a cash-cow around a field far more than it ever was loyal fans chasing a worthy sequel.
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